Guy Clark needs song and cigarettes. He rolls his own.
On the Nashville-based songster’s first album in four years, he writes 10 numbers and sings them with steady commitment and gentle dignity, either on a murder ballad, a country dance in time, a topical lament or a tune on tune-crafting itself (The High Price of Inspiration ).
He’s one of those songwriter’s songwriters. And I bet he has a dog.
Some of the material is heavy, but the spare arrangements and simple, colourless sounds are not bumming. Clark, 71, doesn’t want to bring you down, but he’s not a shielder either.
If you were to talk to him, he would tell you about the leg he broke or the cancer he beat, but only if you asked him about one or the other.
When he sings with the empathetic harmony vocalist Morgane Stapleton, one might imagine John Prine and Norah Jones.
The fiddled title track is real. It’s about his long-time wife, who last year passed away. It’s loving, not sad. “My favourite picture of you is the one where your wings are showing,” he tells her. She wasn’t dead yet when the song was written – “not gone,” in his words, “but goin’.”
On a wry song about unwanted council, Clark instructs “Don’t give me no advice that rhymes; I’ve heard it all a thousand times.” Did you see what he did there? Of course you did – he’s not tricky, just good.
He can paint quite a picture. From Cornmeal Waltz: “Beat-up ol’ Stetsons and beehive hair, belt buckles bumpin’ in time / There’s a little girl dancin’ on her daddy’s toes, spinnin’ around on a dime.”
El Coyote, about cross-border people-smugglers, comments on man’s inhumanity. Heroes is a talking blues on post-war suicides and ex-soldiers who need champions.
Clark says the things that need to be said, writing for himself first, as the real ones always do. He’s probably lighting up another one right now, as we speak.